What is the ‘Women’s Health Strategy’ and why is it important?

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Last year, the government published its Women’s Health Strategy for England to tackle decades of “systemic” and “entrenched” gender health inequality.

In today’s blog, personal injury and medical negligence solicitor Hannah Carr, who specialises in women’s health issues, looks back at the publication of the strategy, hailed by Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, as “a landmark moment addressing entrenched inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of women across the country.”

Why do we need a Women’s Health Strategy?

The need for the strategy is clear: while women live longer than men, they spend significantly more of their life in ill health and disability when compared with men.

Despite this, evidence points to women in England not receiving the same standards of healthcare as men in a system which men have designed for men.

How did the Women’s Health Strategy come about?

At the end of 2019, the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists published the hard-hitting report “Better for Women”. The report made strong recommendations on many aspects of women’s health, including putting women at the heart of the healthcare system and removing historical health inequalities.

Its main recommendation was the creation of a “National Women’s Health Strategy that adopts a life course approach to women’s health.”

Fast forward nearly 2 years later, and in July 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care launched its new Women’s Health Strategy for England. This was after a call for evidence generated almost 100,000 responses from women across the country and over 400 written submissions from organisations and experts in the health and care sector.

Is women’s pain ignored?

Thousands of women told the consultation that they “persistently needed to advocate for themselves” and had to push for further investigation to secure a diagnosis. Of those who responded, 84% said they often felt ignored or not listened to when they attempted to seek help.

Novum Law’s own clients have experienced similar issues – for example, their pain and suffering has been disbelieved; they have been misdiagnosed; they have been prescribed the incorrect medication; and they have not been trusted to make informed choices about their own bodies.

The government heard concerns that women had not been listened to at times when the pain was the main symptom. For example, some doctors said that heavy and painful periods are ‘normal’ or that the woman will ‘grow out of them.’

There were also lots of examples of women reporting they had spoken to healthcare professionals on multiple occasions over many months or years before receiving a diagnosis for fairly common conditions such as endometriosis.

When the Women’s Health Strategy was published, Maria Caulfield, then the Women’s Health Minister, said:

“Tackling the gender health gap will not be easy – there are deep-seated, systemic issues we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default.”

What are the aims of the Women’s Health Strategy?

The strategy aims to:

  • Commission new research on women’s health issues to raise understanding of female-specific health issues and “tackle the data gap” to ensure diagnoses and treatments work better for women
  • Overhaul and expand the women’s health section on the NHS website with new pages on gynaecological conditions not previously covered
  • Improve access to contraception and IVF (including female same-sex couples), maternity support and mental health services.
  • Recognise and acknowledge parents who experience pregnancy loss before 24 weeks by offering a Pregnancy Loss Certificate.
  • Establish a new UK Menopause taskforce with a focus on new services targeted at supporting women through menopause, increasing access to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and reducing its cost.
  • Invest £10m in the NHS breast screening programme to provide 25 new mobile breast-screening units.
  • Train all doctors to provide better care to women, with mandatory teaching and assessment on women’s health for all medical students and incoming doctors. Trainee medics will be assessed by the General Medical Council on women’s health, including the menopause, obstetrics and gynaecology. Those in specialist training to become GPs or physiotherapists, will have teaching on women’s health. Existing doctors could take extra courses to improve their knowledge.
  • Expand Women’s Health Hubs – which are so far up and running in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Hampshire, and Hackney in London, and enable women to access support, advice and treatment for various issues.

Need to improve women’s healthcare

Hannah Carr says:

“There must be an expansion of information and educational resources for women and healthcare professionals. There must also be greater cohesion in the way services are provided to ensure it is much easier for women to access the healthcare they need.

“The aims of the government’s Women’s Health Strategy appear to go some way in addressing this. However, it doesn’t have all the answers, and of course, as we all know, the NHS is currently under a great deal of pressure.

“The gender health gap cannot be addressed through health services alone.  We need all those with the power to positively impact on women’s health, including teachers, those in industry and employers to make lasting change.

“As a team of experienced healthcare solicitors, we often see for ourselves worrying cases where women’s health needs have not been addressed, diagnoses have been delayed or treatment has not been at an acceptable standard.  We hope more can be done to try and prevent further avoidable harm.”

If you or a loved one has been harmed in a hospital or any other healthcare setting, you may be eligible to claim compensation. Novum Law’s team of specialist medical negligence solicitors may be able to help on a No Win No Fee basis. To find out more information, contact us on Freephone: 0800 884 0777, email: info@novumlaw.com or complete our short enquiry form.

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